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Monthly Archives: October 2011

Wheels of Change at Public Bikes

“Don’t be a fright, don’t carry a flask and don’t forget your tool bag.” That’s the advice the Omaha Daily Bee gave women wheelers in 1895. We didn’t learn what it means to be a fright, but Katie and I learned a few other things at a book reading for Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom at PUBLIC Bikes in San Francisco.

We learned how women were riding centuries before the turn of century, how women were off racing from the moment they mounted their steel steeds and how aggressive campaigns by conservative community members couldn’t keep women off their bikes, or off of the road to independence.

We learned how parents who wouldn’t allow their daughters to go to the theater with young men unchaperoned would allow them to go bicycling alone with young men. Could it be that the bike date was the original date? All very interesting to see where we came from as women cyclists.

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To see where cycling is headed, all we had to do was look around at the venue, the headquarters of PUBLIC Bikes. PUBLIC manufactures and sells European-style city bikes. Since the founder is an designer and an urbanist, not a bike geek, they are elegantly artful as well as perfectly functional for city riding.

PUBLIC has tapped into a new market of bike riders who probably wouldn’t ever call themselves cyclists, much less women wheelers. Like Kirsten, who I met at the book reading. Kirsten lived in Copenhagen for a few months, where she learned how easy and fashionable it can be to get around on a bike. When she moved back to San Francisco she bought a Dutch style bike from PUBLIC for her four mile Cow Hollow-to-South of Market commute to work.

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Kirsten stopped in at PUBLIC on her way home to buy lights since it’s getting dark earlier these days. She also wanted to get her tires pumped because she didn’t really know how. She also asked when she should come back to get them pumped again. I was surprised that the sales guy didn’t immediately try to sell her a floor pump. But I realized that for bicycles to become widespread as transportation, operating them shouldn’t require any more mechanical skill than owning a car.

The PUBLIC headquarters also serves as showroom for hand picked, positively delightful accessories. It’s where I bought my favorite Nutcase helmet, my Basil shopper pannier and a new pair of flat pedals for Zella to replace her ugly plastic ones. The plastic ones work great, but have absolutely no style.

And style has been important since the era where women traded skirts for bloomers and were cautioned “don’t wear clothes that don’t fit” and “don’t try to ride in your brother’s clothes.” Being a woman wheeler these days, as in the 1890s, doesn’t mean trading in your femininity for your freedom.

What kind of freedom does you bicycle give you?

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Posted by on October 20, 2011 in Around Town

 

The Great Pumpkin Ride

After a stressful week at work and a busy Saturday coordinating volunteers at a bike race followed by my own ride with friends, I knew I needed to give my body a rest and spend some quality time with my sweetie. The solution: renting a big Harley cruiser and taking a ride to the coast.

The only thing that compares to a bike ride over the hills to the coast is a ride on the back of a motorcycle, especially when you need to chill. So when I asked my dear husband to take me out to Half Moon Bay so I could get a pumpkin, he gladly obliged with a ride on a Hawg.

Careful to avoid the heavy traffic on Hwy 92 for the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, we took Hwy 84 up and over the hill, then turned off on Pescadero Road ’cause I was craving coastal cuisine: artichoke bread at the bakery and pepper and artichoke soup at Duarte’s Tavern. The added bonus was hanging out with bikers at Duarte’s tasting “French fries with eyes,” aka fried smelt. (They were ok, but would have been better with a Southeast Asian sauce)

With full bellies in us and half-full saddlebags on the bike, we motored north, past the San Gregorio Store up to Arata’s pumpkin patch. We passed on the corn maze, the gladiator battle, the hay ride and even the pumpkin pie. Instead, we picked out a bright orange pumpkin and a couple of little white ones, for no good reason except to make me smile. And then we hopped back on the Harley and carved our way back over the hill, which made us both smile.

Do you ever wish your bicycle had a motor so you could enjoy the scenery and just chill?

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Posted by on October 18, 2011 in Backroads

 

Making the Grade the Low-Key Way

With coastal mountain ranges that ring San Francisco Bay, most Bay Area cyclists are blessed to live within 10 miles of a road that climbs to a thousand feet or more. Mt Tamalpais, Mt Diablo, Mt Hamilton. Old La Honda, Palomares, Sierra Road, Tunitas Creek, the Three Bears. There’s a tough climb within riding distance for anyone prepared to face the pain and feel the glory.

For those who crave new hills and want to go head-to-head against other climbers, the Low-Key Hill Climb series was born. The stated goal of this grassroots, volunteer-driven series of events is to “allow each cyclist, no matter what his or her level, no matter what his or her speed, to establish goals and meet them. It’s all about the hill, the rider and being at one with the bike.” Of course, for competitive cyclists, this means pushing your body and spirit to the limit to crush the field. The organization may be low-key, but the competition is not necessarily.

When Dan, the series organizer, asked me to be the coordinator for the Page Mill Low-Key Climb last Saturday, I had to chuckle a little inside. I’ve raced a few Low-Keys with friends before, but I’m not really a climber. Well, at least not in the Low-Key sense. I don’t seek out new hills with evil steep grades. I don’t track my personal best times on Strava. And I rarely find myself waiting at the top for anyone. I climb because I love riding the quiet backroads, which are all hilly. And because I love descending.

But I can appreciate the passion for the challenge and the joy within the pain as I watch these hard men, women and yes, children, busting a gut to make the grade with a peak a week. They just can’t get enough, while I’m happy to just get over it. For me, veni, vidi, ascendi will have to be another day, when I’m not volunteering.

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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Backroads

 

Dress for Success on the Bicycle

There’s a new CEO at my company and I had a private meeting scheduled with him today. A single hour to dazzle him with deep insights, brilliant program ideas and report my team’s amazing results. So, what to wear? And which bike to ride? Decisions, decisons.

If I had listened to the recent “sometimes you just need a car” ads from the Zipcar car sharing service, I would have driven in to work this morning. After all, in today’s job market you can’t risk not impressing the new CEO. And how could anyone possibly suit up and carry a laptop on a bike?

Instead of getting indignant at Zipcar’s limited view of the bicycle’s utility, I took it as a challenge. I’ve already ridden my bike in professional dress to a meeting at our PR firm and to a pub for a beer after work with an alliance partner. But a suit with a narrow skirt? That’s the real challenge, not the heels and the laptop.

So I dug through my closet for a narrow skirt that had a chance of being rideable and found this one with a cute border of pleats along the back hem.

Then I hopped on Juliett, my Dutch bike, and gave it a test spin around the cul-de-sac. Success! Between Juliett’s step through frame and upright position, and those cute little pleats, I pedaled to work feeling confident, successful and ready to impress the new CEO.

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As I strapped my ordinary laptop messenger bag onto Juliett, though, I decided we need a more stylish bag, like these from Dutch company FastRider. Which one do you think is stylish enough for the ever fashionable Juliett? Tell me quick, cause it may take a while to track down where I can buy it.

 

Whisked Away by a Knight on a White Bike

I’m girl enough to have grown up with fantasies of the knight in shining armor whisking me away on his white horse. And I’m old enough to have watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in reruns on cable. Do you remember that movie, with its sweet scene where Paul Newman whisks Katharine Ross away on his bicycle to BJ Thomas’ “Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head”? Talk about making a young girl swoon.

Which is one reason it disturbed me (and plenty others) to read about General Motors’s latest ad promoting car sales to college students. The message: guys on bikes are losers who will never get the hot chicks.

Boy, did this ad create a stir. By the time I write this, the bike blogosphere is fully aflame. Some bloggers protested that guys who ride bikes have fabulous bodies that make them super SEXY, others complained about GM encouraging young adults saddled with school loans to take on additional car loans they can ill afford. GM desperately backpedaled and discontinued the ads. A sure sign that bike culture is gaining momentum.

But as a woman who fell in love with her bike as a girl, then fell in love with a man on a bike as an adult, the ad seemed like a throwback to values from an era between Butch Cassidy and today.

I met my husband through bicycling, and fell in love with him not because he had a hot bod or because he was outsprinting the pack or even because he was saving the planet. I fell in love with him in part because he was a gentleman on the bicycle. When I met him I was training for my first triathlon and hadn’t tackled any of the backroads climbs that are expected in our area. So when he asked me out for a first date, a ride that included climbing Old La Honda, I said yes with excitement, but was instantly nervous.

Old La Honda Road is 3.3 miles long and climbs over 1300 feet. I had only done it once before on a group ride, where I quickly learned that climbing is not my strong point. My big question: should I climb hard on the date so as not to embarrass myself, or should I keep my pace at a level where he wouldn’t have to yell over my heavy breathing?

I chose the latter, and I swear he had to track stand on a couple of steep switchbacks since his lowest gear was a 39×26. But he stayed with me, chatting away, even when hardcore riders with training goals and big egos whizzed by us. Now that’s sexy. And that’s why there was a second, third and fourth date, why I married him and why we still ride together.

I think GM could learn a thing or two watching reruns on cable of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. After all, Katharine Ross hopped out of bed with Robert Redford to ride off with Paul Newman.

It must have been the bike.

What do you find sexiest about a guy (or a girl) on a bike?

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Issues & Infrastructure

 

It’s a Dog’s Life in My Neighborhood

Some of the things I love most about riding my bike are the things I see only because I’m moving at bike speed. The little kids holding tight to their parents’ hands walking to school, the older kids on the ball fields practicing sports after school, and the old folks shuffling down the sidewalks throughout the day. But no matter how early I leave for work, how late I come home or how cold or wet it is, I can always count on seeing these intrepid folks–the dogs and their walkers.

Dog owners know that dogs aren’t happy unless they get out and explore their world, weather be damned. So on a misty wet day like today dog owners grab their umbrellas, and when the cold sets in they grab their heavy coats ’cause dogs just gotta do the dog thing every day.

Like Maddie. She leads her guardian Randy down the sidewalk when they go out on his trike. I assumed Maddie would sometimes ride in the trike’s basket. But no, Randy says Maddie has to be out front at all times, so he carries her when she gets tired.

Then there’s Eggie and her terrier Honey. Eggie and I worked at the same company years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised to see her out early on the baylands trails with Honey, even in the dead of winter when my friends and I were training for cyclocross. And now I see them both right here in my neighborhood too. Terriers like to have a big range to roam.

I wish I had more photos to show you of all the other dogs: a pair of graceful rescue greyhounds and the elegant older woman who walks them, the big white husky that a husband and wife team take out together every morning, the frisky chihuahua with the burly Latino man. They make me smile as I pedal past.

What makes you smile on your commute to work?

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2011 in Around Town

 

Farewell to a Visionary

The drizzle today only seemed fitting for paying my respects to a man who epitomized the spirit of Silicon Valley: be bold, be daring and follow your vision, not your critics. Or worse, your competitors.

I may have graduated with honors with a degree in Computer Science, but when it comes down to it I’m not a computer geek, or even a gadget head. I actually cried the first time I was forced to use a computer in college. What attracted me in the end to Computer Science was the elegance of expressing an algorithm through code. Good code is like good writing: clear, concise and well organized in its message. That’s good design, and that’s what Steve Jobs demanded.

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Like so many others, what I appreciate about Apple products, which are all Steve’s babies, is their simplicity. Rather than offering you a hundred options, they know what you want. Rather than being clever, they let you be clever. Rather than being made in the image of the engineers that built them, they were made in the image of the non-geeks who bought them. In droves.

That’s me, the non-geek whose iPhone is her most valued material possession (don’t tell my bikes). I use my phone to connect with my husband, check in with friends on Facebook, record what I see with an amazing camera, find my way across town with Google maps and journal my life through this blog. With just my iPhone I was able to create this whole blog entry: taking photos, cropping them with PS mobile, composing copy and uploading it all with the WordPress mobile app.

Thank you, Steve. You make me clever. And judging by the little memorial your fans have created outside your Palo Alto home, I’m not the only one you touched.

Who are your heroes?

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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Other Stuff

 
 
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